As an analyst, I listen to countless sales pitches from every imaginable vendor. Almost without fail, I have to ask the question of the vendor “What is the business proposition/problem that they are trying to solve?”
One would think that the answer to this seems obvious. However, as commonsense is not so common, the answer to this question is also not so obvious. This obscurity usually gets more pronounced with emerging vendors, although it is not uncommon for mature vendors to suffer from the same lack of clarity.
The problem that exist is that every technology company out there is trying to show off why its technologies/products are superior to its competitors, or why it is so unique in the market. However, enterprises no longer care if a product is marginally better than the next. This manifests itself further when the technology buyer is no longer a technologist. The buyer does not care if the product is shinier, prettier, faster, or in many circumstances, cheaper. Instead, the only thing they care about is whether it solves the business problem, or more bluntly, can I make money easier and faster.
Look at SalesForce.com – often the sales leadership are the ones pushing for the migration of legacy CRM solutions to SalesForce.com. These line of business leaders do not know (and more importantly, do not care) whether SalesForce.com runs on an X86 server, or a mainframe. They don’t care if the network is 100Mbps or 40Gbps. Nor do they care if the storage is tape or flash. They certainly could not care if the environment is virtualized or not. These technology buyers care about one thing – does it make CRM easier to use and is it compatible with the way the sales teams operate.
This extends to considerations about hosted email or any other Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) offering.
Recently, I was very pleasantly surprised by Cloudera’s CEO, Tom Reilly, at its annual analyst conference. In his remarks, he mentioned the word “Hadoop” not more than a couple of times. Even his colleague, Doug Cutting, who is often credited with the invention of Hadoop, only used the word Hadoop a handful of times. Instead, the entire executive team at Cloudera only wanted to share how its customers’ innovations, business growth, and competitive advantage was powered by, or run on Cloudera. (I later counseled them to use the term “enabled by Cloudera.”)
However, this breath of fresh air was short-lived.
Last week, I was the audience for a soon-to-be-released solution. As I habitually do, when hearing the pitch on a brand new product or technology, I time how long it takes for me to achieve the “ah-ha” moment. For this vendor, it took 24 minutes (in full disclosure, this is not the worse!) That said, in the 20 odd slides presented, there was no single slide that talked about how the product/technology would help its customers achieve growth, profitability or competitive advantage.
Today’s market is such that technologies commoditize quickly. In some cases, within 5 years. For vendors to distinguish themselves in these highly competitive markets, it is insufficient to make claims to a better widget. This approach has been and gone. This was the classic Japanese and Taiwanese approach of the 1970’s and 1980’s – rather than innovating on new technologies, they reproduce a technology smaller, faster, cheaper (and in some cases, better). But, when it is all said and done, it is just a “me too” product.
I argue that many Chinese manufacturers have taken over this approach. Lenovo is the poster child – participate in a mature market, and make products that are comparable or marginally better, and sell it cheaper. That is fine if the vendor is in a mass production segment of the market (such as the PC or x86 server market).
However, if you are a vendor, and are trying to show innovation, do not rely on your technology merits alone. No matter the number of patents and copyrights, the vendor must demonstrate how its “whiz-bang” technology or product can generate new enterprise value and create competitive advantage.
Lastly, cost mitigation is also no longer an acceptable differentiation. My colleagues in traditional quantitative market research have clearly proven that technology, on average, represents around 2.5% of revenue. Even if a technology vendor can save, 20% across the board on technology spend, the absolute savings might be impressive, but it is not nearly as impressive as if the technology can drive 20% more business.
Ask yourselves, would your customers prefer to drive 20% more business or save ½% in cost? OK, the answer is, BOTH! But this is rare; and given only one choice, I believe that driving more business is more important.